Forest of Fear doles out record amount of funds to community organizations as labor of love
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Ideal weather, plenty of volunteers, and a steady stream of people seeking to get spooked allowed the Forest of Fear to scare up a record amount of donations to support local students and community organizations.
The Forest of Fear, located off of Stephan Bridge Road, ran every weekend in October up through Halloween.
The Forest of Fear marked its 13th anniversary this year.
Mother Nature cooperated, and there were times when there was an hour and a half wait for people to go through the haunted trail walk.
“We had a great year. The weather was good. We had lots of people and we made $9,800,” said Forest of Fear founder Tom Cojocar. “We thought we were going have to cancel one night, but we lucked out and never had to shut down at all.”
The Forest of Fear gathered a record amount in proceeds, which were donated to support local students and community organizations.
But instead of dropping of checks this year, Cojocar placed one condition on organizations that received the funds – they had to attend a pizza party hosted at the Grayling Eagles Club.
Cojocar said he simply wanted his crew, which he calls his “bloodline” – it helps staff and stage the haunted trail walk – to experience the goodwill they provide to the community.
“It was great and it just blew me away,” he said. “By the time that was done, if you didn’t have a tear rolling down your face, there was one hanging off your eye brow and that’s what I want my crew to experience.”
The Forest of Fear expanded which organizations it supports this year by giving an $800 donation to the Crawford County Commission on Aging and Senior Center.
“We had extra this year, and I want to branch out, and that was one of the only places I could think of that would kind of make us look good,” Cojocar said.
Christine Sayad, public relations coordinator for the Crawford County Commission on Aging, said the agency delivered 28,668 meals through the Meals on Wheels program last year. Only 40 percent of the cost to deliver the meals was covered by grant funding, so the Commission on Aging has to budget $100,000 to cover the rest of the cost. The Forest of Fear donations will help cut some of the operating costs for the Meals on Wheels program.
“When someone gives us a substantial donation, that’s where we put that money to cover that expense,” Sayad said.
Schools within the Crawford AuSable School District received $3,500 in Forest of Fear donations.
Donations of $1,000 each were given the Viking Food Pantries housed at the Grayling High School, Grayling Middle School, and Grayling Elementary School. The pantries send food, hygiene products, and cleaning supplies home to help students and their families.
“At our level we try to take care of the whole family,” said Grayling Elementary School Principal Gina Brunskill, who picked up the donation on behalf of the school district.
The other $500 was given to the Grayling Elementary School to buy hats, boots, and gloves for students who need them.
Brunskill said the items are a necessity for students coming to and from school, but also where they get a break from classroom during the school day.
“With outside recess they need that gear,” she said.
Brunskill said it was heartwarming to see the volunteers who put on the Forest of Fear, which included some fourth and fifth graders who help staff and stage the scenes on the trail walk.
“The people that put this whole thing on, I think it’s just phenomenal that they give up their time and give of themselves for what they do,” she said. “I was very moved by not just dollars, but the time effort. We are a very wealthy community, and it’s not just measured in dollars.”
The Roscommon Elementary School also received a $500 donation to purchase hats, boots, and gloves for students.
Project Graduation for the Class of 2019 from the Grayling High School and Roscommon High School each received $500 donations.
A $2,000 donation was given to the Crawford County Community Christian Help Center to help put food on the tables for area families.
Forest of Fear provided $500 worth of dog food to the AuSable Valley Animal Shelter though a deal made with Smokin’ Bucks owner Chet Chmielewski.
A $1,000 donation was given to the River House Shelter, Inc., which will be used to upgrade living quarters for people seeking refuge from sexual assault and domestic violence in the Grayling area.
Finally, separate from Forest of Fear proceeds, $568 was given to the Grayling High School tennis team. The funds came from the raffle of cornhole boards, by Forest of Fear volunteer Bobbi Jo Benson and her family.
“They made a set for every weekend,” Cojocar said.
Forest of Fear volunteers did some shopping to prepare to do the haunted woods next year.
“We always go shopping after Halloween to pick up some stuff,” Cojocar said.
While numbers were up this year for Forest of Fear, Cojocar said some volunteers did not participate this season.
“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “I love giving out the money and the feedback.”